When he heard there was a new movie being made about the Battle of the Alamo, Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson figured there would surely be a CD featuring music from the film.
Then “The Alamo” co-star Billy Bob Thornton told him that there wasn’t any such album in the works.
“I said, ‘Shoot, now there’s an opportunity I can’t resist,”’ said the lead singer for the popular Western swing group, a Grammy-winning, Austin-based septet.
“Asleep at the Wheel Remembers the Alamo” features a wide range of songs — from the melancholy trumpet standard “Decuello” played by the Mexican Army while it surrounded the Alamo in March 1836 to a humorous ditty about the 1982 night when rocker-turned-TV-curiosity Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for relieving himself in front of the shrine of Texas liberty.
Benson said he had a lot of material to choose from that either focused on the battle or simply mentioned the Alamo without any relevance to the predawn clash between the Texians and Santa Anna’s troops.
“We just wanted to show how it’s permeated our culture,” he said.
There are 10 verses of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, made famous in the 1950s Disney classic “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” that set off a coonskin cap craze among young American boys.
Benson said the Crockett song has 31 verses in all, and that he took out as many of them as he could without shortchanging the frontiersman, who was among those who died at the Alamo.
“What the song did was tell the entire life story of Davy Crockett in detail,” Benson said. “It was absolutely more detail than we needed.”
Best Alamo song ever?Benson professes special feelings for a 1950s song “Remember the Alamo,” written by San Antonio native Jane Bowers and recorded by country singer Tex Ritter, folk group The Kingston Trio and folk-pop star Donovan.
The tenor of that song recounts the mythology of the Alamo’s holy trinity of Crockett, William Barret Travis and Jim Bowie, and includes the refrain “Hey up, Santy Anna! We’re killing your soldiers below / So the rest of Texas will know/And remember the Alamo.”
Bob Armstrong of Austin, who helped Bowers adapt her tune to the guitar, said he was happy to see Asleep at the Wheel resurrect it.
“I think this is the best Alamo song there is,” said Armstrong, a deputy Interior Secretary during the Clinton presidency and an avid amateur folk singer. “It’s a very gripping song.”
Two of the 13 tracks on the CD are songs featured in John Wayne’s 1960 film “The Alamo,” shot in Brackettville near Del Rio. “The Ballad of the Alamo” was a hit for country singer Marty Robbins, while “Green Leaves of Summer” climbed the charts for The Brothers Four.
“I just felt that movie itself was really one of the reasons why the Alamo has persisted in modern culture,” Benson said.